Burns searching for second stint, but this time in government
Ahead of the upcoming federal election, Labor’s Macnamara incumbent Josh Burns spoke with Southbank News about the impact of COVID-19 on Southbank, the importance of funding for the arts, and transport options to Fishermans Bend.
Favoured to secure a second term as federal member for Macnamara, Labor’s Josh Burns was “not taking anything for granted” ahead of an election tipped for mid-May.
Burns, who won the seat with a five per cent swing in 2019, was expected to retain Macnamara ahead of the Greens, and was optimistic this time around he could serve in government rather than opposition, although was assuming little.
“I don’t think you can take anything for granted,” he told Southbank News.
“I think that being a member of parliament is a true privilege; you have to represent 110,000 people, their interests and if that doesn’t make you completely exhausted from all the work it requires and all of the effort that goes into the seat, then I don’t think you’re doing your job properly. Being a member for Macnamara has been a true privilege, and I hope that we can continue working, but I hope that we can do it from government as part of an Albanese Labor Government.”
Southbank makes up a small geographical part of the Macnamara patch, but a significant part of the seat population-wise.
Mr Burns said the effect of the pandemic on the local area had been “devastating”, particularly for the visitor economy and creative industries.
Asked what the area needed for recovery, he pointed to longer-term stability.
“Southbank is a place that people visit not just from around Melbourne but from all around the country,” he said.
“I think one of the key things that we need for many of the organisations that are slowly rebuilding is time and stability, where we’re managing the pandemic in as best a way possible, where we’re keeping our vaccinations rates high and keeping the doors open of our amazing organisations who have had it so hard. I’m hopeful that Southbank can have a relatively normal year for the rest of the year. Obviously, we have a lot to manage, but I think we have more tools at our disposal, especially with vaccinations, that has meant life is starting to feel as much as normal as it was prior to the pandemic.”
Mr Burns said the area’s cultural importance made funding for the arts essential, and that places like the NGV and Arts Centre were “some of the organisations that help shape our national identity and help shape who we are and the stories we tell as Australians.”
Pointedly, he added that smaller creative organisations “rely on government enabling their work” and “we need to ensure our creatives industries are thriving, and as a result Southbank will thrive alongside it.”
“It’s one of the most special and unique parts of Southbank,” he said.
“Southbank isn’t just the arts hub for Melbourne, it’s one of the cultural homes of the entire country.”
Last month, Mr Burns announced that a victorious Labor Government would provide Southbankers with direct access to renewable energy through the installation of a new community battery.
As Australia’s most densely populated suburb, 98 per cent of Southbank residents live in apartments or flats and the area is home to one of Australia’s largest proportion of renters, meaning most can’t install solar panels at their homes.
Mr Burns said the election was “not about the next six weeks”, but rather “about the next decade and what sort of Australia and what economy we want to set up.”
From a transport perspective, he said questions about options to and from Fishermans Bend were “very timely”, and that Labor would “have more to say on this in the not-too-distant future.”
As more and more people move there, we need to ensure there are options for people, otherwise Fishermans Bend, Port Melbourne, Albert Park, St Kilda — all the places I represent — are going to become a big parking lot. And we can’t afford that in Melbourne.
“We need to ensure that people can sustainably and easily move around the city, and Fishermans Bend is such an important part of Melbourne.”
Macnamara: an explainer
The division of Macnamara (named after medical scientist Dame Jean Macnamara) was until 2018 known as “Melbourne Ports”.
The traditionally working-class seat has been Labor-held since 1906, and until Mr Burns’ successful tilt at pre-selection, was held for more than two decades by Michael Danby until his retirement in 2019.
In fact, the division has a storied history of long-serving members, with Mr Burns just the sixth Labor MP since James Matthews won the seat in 1906.
Each Labor MP since Matthews (Jack Holloway, Frank Crean, Clyde Holding and Mr Danby) held the seat for a minimum of 19 years each.
The seat has become more middle-class in recent years with accelerating inner-city gentrification and higher density housing developments and, according to the ABC’s election guide, is “a seat where Labor has usually trailed on first preference votes, relying on Australian Democrat and more recently on Green preferences to come from behind and win.”
Along with Southbank, the electorate includes the suburbs of Port Melbourne, South Melbourne, Middle Park, South Yarra, St Kilda, Balaclava, Elwood and parts of Elsternwick and Caulfield •
Caption: Federal member for Macnamara Josh Burns (back left) at the official opening of the newly-opened Port Melbourne Secondary College in January.